Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Mike and Karen Pence: Good for you, not for me - or for most women

The Pences. Photo by Gage Skidmore.

Did you hear? Mike Pence and his wife, Karen, have a deal in their marriage: neither of them will eat a meal alone with a member of the opposite sex. He also won't go to events where alcohol is served without her there.

I KNOW, RIGHT????

Depending on your views about politics, relationships, sex, alcohol, and gender, your "I know, right?" was either enraged or emphatically supportive.

As someone who grew up in a conservative Christian church, I am very familiar with the notion that men and women are automatically in danger of doing something inappropriate when left alone together. A common refrain is, "Why put yourself in the path of temptation?"

That's a good question - why would someone want to put themselves in a situation where they'll be tempted to do something they know they shouldn't?

I'd like to believe that we can all be self-aware enough to balance the level of temptation we will feel with the value of the event in question. If you are a newly-recovering alcoholic, maybe a week at an all-inclusive resort with tequila stations at every turn is too much temptation, even if it means missing your friend's wedding. On the other hand, if you are feeling strong in your recovery, you might be able to go to the wedding without being too worried.

So if I had a male friend or colleague who I felt attraction for, I would probably avoid spending time alone with them, because who needs to feed into that? If, on the other hand, I have a male in my life for whom I feel nothing and from whom I only receive friend-vibes, why shouldn't I treat them as I would any other friend?

But that's just me. I am not the Pences - thank goodness.

Still, it's kind of ridiculous. And a little bit, potentially, reasonable.

It is RIDICULOUS to say that men and women cannot ever be friends, or at least friendly enough to have a meal together, without something untoward happening. As a blanket statement, this is offensively ludicrous and just reinforces destructive views of gender as two opposing camps.

It is REASONABLE to have a boundary in your relationship that makes it feel safe for you and your partner. If there is a history of infidelity or addiction, then perhaps you have to be pretty vigilant.

It is RIDICULOUS to say that no one should attend an event with alcohol without a guardian.

It is REASONABLE for a person with a history of trouble containing themselves while they drink to avoid events with alcohol unless they have a  "safe person" there.

It is RIDICULOUS to continue to shove men and women into these binary camps that are constantly opposed or attracted to one another. Barring friendship (or friendly colleagues), how about the fact that many people are not straight or don't fit into these categories. This stance does not account for trans, non-binary, or homosexual people.

So basically, Mike and Karen Pence's rules are both insanely ridiculous, and kind of reasonable, depending on circumstances we will never know. Maybe they have a history of fidelity problems. Maybe Mike struggled with alcoholism at some point.

Or maybe, they just believe archaic and damaging things about gender and sex dynamics.

Either way, it's not my relationship, so it would ideally boil down to "good for you, not for me." If they want a relationship with such strict roles and boundaries, well, they are the ones who have to live with those choices. It's certainly not hurting anyone.

Except... well, it might hurt some people. Specifically, it might hurt the women who work under Mike Pence.

If he will truly never have a meal with a woman unless his wife is present, then only men he works with have the opportunity to eat a casual lunch with him at work. Casual lunches, as I am told, are the places where relationships and trust are built with management. It's where major projects can be discussed in a low-stakes environment. Where the groundwork is laid for advancement.

So, that sucks. I mean, if you think women deserve equal opportunities to contribute to the workplace as men.

It's also insane if you think about the implications in his current position: would he really never have a meal with a female head of state? A governor or congresswoman? What if Ruth Bader Ginsberg needed some of his time to talk about some issue in the courts? I doubt either of them would feel any temptation, could he make an exception for that? (I realize that's not probably how the court system in America works, but you catch my drift.)

I would love to just shrug my shoulders and wonder if they are really happy, but I can't help but wonder how this impacts a lot of women and their opportunities.


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